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How a rogue engineer brought same-sex coupling to  The Sims

How a rogue engineer brought same-sex coupling to The Sims

August 6, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

August 6, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
More: Console/PC, Programming

When The Sims first launched in 2000, developer EA Maxis hardly expected that the title would make any major waves. So, when months before lead engineer Jamie Doornbos went into the game's code and -- without consulting anyone -- programmed in the possibility for same-sex relationships, no one at Maxis really batted an eye.

"He just went in there and it was a thing one day," said David "Rez" Graham, lead AI programmer for The Sims 4. "Nobody really questioned it, which was cool."

"He has a reputation for 'just going in and doing shit.' So he wrote it basically without meeting or discussing it."

Graham was speaking at a panel along with several other Electronic Arts employees at GaymerX, an LGBT-focused games convention held this past weekend in San Francisco. The panel's topic: bringing a more diverse audience into EA's games.

According to Graham, Doornbos, who is openly gay, "had more permission because it was seen as a kind of casual type game. It would've been harder to have that happen in a huge triple-A game."

The original Sims allowed players to pursue romantic encounters with either gender, up to and including marriage. Same-sex partners might eventually ask the player's character if they want to adopt a child.

Graham explained that in addition to The Sims generally having more leverage as a "casual" title, on the level of programming, prohibiting same-sex relationships would mean extra labor that simply wasn't justified compared to the "ick factor" of certain other social taboos afforded by the simulation.

"When you have to specifically write code to deal with [preventing incest], homosexuality seems pretty mild," Graham offered.

Moreover, because The Sims franchise is built upon simulating human relationships, Graham suggested it was a design imperative to feature same-sex couples as equal to opposite-sex pairs.

"Homosexuality isn't new, it's something that exists in our world and we [Maxis] are trying to simulate people in our world," Graham told attendees after the conclusion of the panel. "The conversation is not if we include it but how we include it."

However, Graham said that even if a development studio is keen to be more encompassing with its representation, there are hurdles from other agencies that developers still have to face, when ratings boards continue to hold sway over what is deemed "appropriate" for a given audience.

"The ESRB will be an interesting group to try and win over," he reflected.

UPDATE According to Joystiq, the introduction of same-sex marriages was misattributed to Graham but was actually implemented by programmer Patrick J. Barrett III, who later discussed this with The New Yorker.

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